Stands Scotland Where it Did? Work in Progress

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The National Theatre of Scotland was launched in 2006 with 10 site-specific mini-productions entitled Home, each devised for a different city. Home Glasgow (above) made use of an 18-storey tower block


Thanks to Christine Hamilton for alllowing us to re-publish her piece to a wider audience. This is her paper presented at the Theatre and Performance Research Association (TaPRA) conference at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow on 4 September 2013, with fine assistance from actor Stuart Hepburn
1.

If Scotland had a Facebook profile then its relationship status would be ‘it’s complicated’.

First there is our relationship with England and our role within the UK:  when it suits, you can hear the girning and moaning about being oppressed while our history shows us to have been a willing partner in imperial ventures; or what about Scotland’s role in the recent financial crisis when the banks which bore its name nearly brought the economic systems crashing? Then there are our close ties in family, language and culture while constantly banging on about being different.

Scotland also has a complicated relationship with the rest of the world – striving to be a kind of celtic Borgen with a modest yet influential role while all the time basking in the glory of being part of one of the world’s most powerful nations; presenting a profile which is modern, enlightened, inventive, a land of discovery –while marching along 6th Avenue once a year in tartan hoping to attract those tourist dollars to the shores.

But Scotland’s most tricky relationship is with itself.

There are many examples of Scottish art which have dealt with the binary nature of Scottish identity – the rural v urban, Highlander v Lowlander, Jacobite v Hanovarian, poor v rich, newcomer v native, catholic v protestant, romantic v rationalist, enlightenment v fundamentalism but I have chosen a piece of 19th century fiction and a piece of theatre it inspired to illustrate the artist’s response to Scotland and to its split personality.

It is possible that even in this well read audience many of you will not have read nor even heard of James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Or to give it its full title: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: Written by Himself: With a detail of curious traditionary facts and other evidence by the editor.  Unlike the great classic Scottish novelists Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, Hogg and his work are relatively unknown.  A contemporary of Scott, he too lived in the Scottish Borders where he worked as a shepherd, educated himself and went on to write both poetry and novels.

Published anonymously in 1824, Confessions was presented as if it were a found document dating from early in the previous century.   It is offered to the public with a long introduction by its unnamed editor. It purports to be the memoirs of Robert Wringhim from the Scottish Borders, who falls under the influence of a stranger Gil-Martin. Wringham believes in predestination– a Calvinist doctrine in which a place in heaven is secured regardless of actions in life.  He commits several crimes including the murder of his brother, and descends into madness but not before confessing all in the document that is ‘discovered’ after his death.

The central part of the book is the confession preceded by a long introduction by the editor and the story of Wringham’s decline and fall is in effect, told twice in sometime contradictory terms. The final section is an explanation by the editor of how the confession was discovered. Throughout the book, Gil- Martin, the stranger, exerts greater and greater influence over Wringham and appears to be able to change shape and identity.  It is left to the reader to decide whether Gil-Martin is the devil, a figment of the protagonist’s imagination or in fact a representation of his spilt personality.

It is part-psychological thriller, part-crime novel, set in Scotland with accurate geographical references but at the same time inhabits a gothic world of horror and fantasy. It deals with madness, the supernatural and religious intolerance and is considered to be the inspiration for Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

The principal actions of the novel take place, as I said, in the very early 18th century around the time of the Union in 1707.  It can be read as a metaphor for Scotland itself and its struggle to resolve the schism in its own identity.  Perhaps it is for this reason it has provided the basis for film, opera and theatre adaptations—few which have been realised and of those, not all successful.

Earlier this year, Untitled Projects, in collaboration with the National Theatre of Scotland, undertook the task of meticulously re-creating an earlier attempt at staging the work by the late Paul Bright, a theatre-maker working here at the end of the 20th century and who died in Paris in his 40s.  Under the title Paul Bright’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner, this production takes the form of a carefully researched and re-created archive, and an illustrated talk by the actor George Anton, one of Bright’s collaborators, with archive footage and contemporary filmed interviews with people who knew or worked with Bright— Tim Crouch, Annie Griffen, Giles Havergal, Katie Mitchell, Alison Peebles and Di Robson.

It tells the story of Bright’s attempts to stage the work in various site specific and theatre settings including an episode on Arthur’s seat in Edinburgh and Traquair House in the Scottish Borders as well as a disastrous production at the Edinburgh International Festival.

The critical response to this re-creation was overwhelmingly positive:  beautifully written by Pamela Carter, exquisitely realised by Stewart Laing, and passionately performed by George Anton.  However what did concern some of the critics was the idea that they were part of a hoax – a new take on the unreliable narrator. It was not what it seemed and did it, in the end, cheat?   For Paul Bright never existed.

The production is an exploration of the complexities of the split personality presented in extreme terms. And above all it is the way the artist lies to get at the truth.

To quote George Anton in the play:

‘I knew I wanted to be an actor from about the age of eight. I remember it very clearly … watching a film with my dad… a Truffaut film … ‘the 400 blows’. I remember very clearly watching this scene where this boy was lying to a person in authority … and I had this sort of revelation … this kid’s lying and getting away with it … I get it, he’s acting, that’s what acting is … lying and getting away with it. Imagine being able to do that for a job?’

And here he is quoting Paul Bright:

‘what is the artist if not a shaman … a seer … how else will I alter states if I can’t alter my own state and release what is buried within me … the real, the truth’.

As Scotland again faces up to an uncertain constitutional future which turns a spotlight on its inherent contradictions, here is one response to the current debate on independence and cultural identity – a play about a play that never existed based on a discovered and edited narrative which purports to be a true story, and which was itself a hoax.

Paul Bright’s Confessions is also about how theatre is made and how it works. Specifically how it can destroy those who believe in their own genius and indestructability.  It is, to quote the brief for this talk, ‘the re-creating of mental and imaginary landscapes of theatre and performance-making’.  But it is also about how theatre was made in the 1980s and exposes the differences between the pre and post devolution theatre in Scotland.

Katie Mitchell, English theatre director, in the interview for Paul Bright’s Confessions says:

‘It was difficult in the late ‘80s starting out as a director … it was the latter stages of Thatcher’s regime and we all felt very much on the outside and at that time the mainstream was pitted against the fringe. I think we all felt that maybe at that time there was a possibility to make a change to create a different mainstream culture. I think we thought that was a fight we hoped to win, but most of my generation didn’t get near to fighting that fight and definitely we lost.’

Wow, ‘we lost’.  Just to be absolutely clear this quote from Mitchell is in the context of a piece of fiction but this position is echoed by others working in English theatre.

Mark Ravenhill in the inaugural speech for the Edinburgh Fringe last month asserts that artists in general and theatre in particular, bought into the Blair agenda of the late 1990s and early 21st century because, in part, the money flowed to the arts, and in part because the artists, like the much of the rest of society, wanted to believe it really was a new dawn and the third way was possible. He implies the arts community sold out by adopting and accepting the new cultural lexicon of ‘business plans and strategic thinking’.

No doubt that there was a growing target culture in the way in which the arts were viewed; that the importance of the creative industries became a cornerstone of Whitehall policy; that the role of the artist in social inclusion and urban regeneration became part of the way in which the arts were discussed and supported. But what I would question is, did this start with Blair or is this not simply a continuation of the policy of the Thatcher/Major years?

Ravenhill’s conclusion is that anger drives theatre and the arts are at their most powerful when in opposition to government (as they were under Thatcher) and asserts, ‘ thank god we’ve got a government in Westminster we can properly hate and wholeheartedly attack’.

How does this play in Scotland in policy terms?

Agreed that the politics of the 1980s and 1990s provided the same oppositional position for theatre in Scotland but, I contend, with a very different outcome. In a paper in 1990, I argued that the then growing confidence of artists was because of, not in spite of Thatcherism and Scottish artists were drawing inspiration from being in opposition to what was happening in the political sphere. 2.

A decade or so later, in a paper I co-authored with Adrienne Scullion in 2003, we reflected that one reaction to a hostile Westminster government was for artists to ‘refocuse[d] their attentions on work for and in Scotland, looking to the past with new application, creating texts of linguistic and visual specificity, reassessing the cultural influences that make Scotland’.  This could well be a description of Paul Bright’s Confessions.

We also argued, that the arts in Scotland were open to influences from beyond –driven to some extent with the increasing access to international work and concluded that, ‘both dynamics were about bypassing London, or at least finding ways of working beyond the ‘them and us’ identities that the Thatcher government engendered in Scotland.’

And echoing this in a piece just last month in the Scotsman, political commentator and critic Joyce McMillan pointed out that in the 80s and 90s ‘Scotland’s artists, writers and musicians did most of their heavy lifting – in terms of reimagining a post-modern Scottish identity that would be inclusive, creative, and infinitely open to changing accounts of itself.’

So out of being in opposition came a re-visiting of Scotland’s distinctive cultural identity—and no suggestion that ‘we lost’.

Devolution in 1999 was the driver for that change. It unleashed an energy in creation of work and brought the political and artistic worlds closer together in dialogue if not in agreement.  They were part of a shared future:  ‘This is about more than our politics and our laws.  This is about who we are, how we carry ourselves’, said Donald Dewar (Labour) First Minster at the opening of the Scottish Parliament.

A recent speech by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture in the (SNP) Scottish Government put clear tartan water between her and Maria Miller, Secretary of State for culture in England:

‘We do not measure the worth of culture and heritage solely in pounds and pence – we value culture and heritage precisely because they are so much more, because they are our heart, our soul, our essence.’

So what have these fine words 14 years apart delivered for theatre in Scotland? And what is theatre delivering for Scotland?

Government funding to the arts and heritage has been but cut but not slashed nor threatened completely as it has south of the border or elsewhere in Europe. Can we argue, however that theatre is telling the truth to politicians? Is this a community which has acquiesced to government control and is tick boxing its way to more money?

Scotland has not escaped the ideas so derided by Ravenhill.  Creative Scotland, the relatively new body created from a merger of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, has faced a barrage of criticism from the arts community about how it speaks about and to the arts and artists.  So much so that battle between the agency and the arts community (known locally as #CSstooshie) led to the departure of its chief executive and a senior member of his team and a commitment from the board to re-visit its policies and its language.

But what is happening on the ground, in theatre itself?

One of the first cultural interventions of the Scottish Government post devolution was to establish a national theatre.  The vision from the theatre community was ‘The Scottish Parliament and a National Theatre for Scotland reflect[ing] each other in the enterprise of a truly democratic civic society.’3.  So moving from being oppositional to being reflective. This civic role for theatre, I would argue underpins not only NTS itself but also the theatre community more widely.  It sees itself as part of the new Scotland with a voice in its future.

Last year I led a review of theatre in Scotland for Creative Scotland and one of the most striking conclusions is the importance of new work – mainly but not exclusively new writing – to the theatre landscape here.  We undertook and analysis of repertoire sampled over three decades. This sample showed that not only has there been an increase in the number of shows produced but that the largest increase is in new writing from Scotland.  This in part can be ascribed to the development of lunchtime theatre in Glasgow at Oran Mor’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint seasons but not exclusively.

There has been a surge in new work, and a flagship company which has accepted and delivered on its role to present to audiences across Scotland a huge range of work –much of this in collaboration with the theatres and companies which lobbied for its creation in the first place.

But what is theatre saying and where stands Scottish theatre on the question of the day? Yes or no? And here we do come to work in progress.

The question was raised during this year’s Edinburgh Festival, where is the Scottish independence play?  Echoing Joyce McMillan’s comment earlier, the reaction from some Scottish playwrights is, ‘I wrote it five years ago’

McMillan also argues that Scottish playwrights and theatre makers are just as concerned with ‘extreme political violence and our response to it, or the rise of right-wing politics in Europe, or the growth of a pervasive sadistic porn culture on the internet, [which] are not at least as important and urgent as Scottish independence’.

As for 2014 and the referendum itself, NTS has risen to the challenge and commissioned work which will deal directly with the arguments from both sides. However the other chatter from the festival was the outgoing Director Jonathan Mill’s infelicitous comment that there will be no events specifically dealing with the referendum in 2014 and the festival will be a politics free zone. Presumably the Commonwealth and the First World War – which will be festival themes — don’t count as being political.  Or perhaps as journalist Lesley Riddoch has pointed out, these are British political themes and count in a different way.

‘It’s very hard to think about any dramatist who has not had a point of view on the politics of the country in which they work.’ riposted Alasdair Gray, novelist and author of Lanark. Gray has form in this debate. Earlier this year he published an article which talked about ‘settlers’ and ‘colonists’ in Scotland – the former being folk who choose to move and settle here (implication good) and the latter those who choose to further their career by coming here for a few years and then moving away again (implication bad).  The problem with Gray’s analysis is that the language is inflammatory and verging on racist, and the examples are often shot through with inaccuracies.  More recently James McMillan, composer took a view at the opposite extreme and made some unfortunate remarks accusing artists in the Yes campaign of ‘fascistic mob mentality’.

However the debate generally amongst artists has not been as ill-tempered and these voices might be regarded as outliers in the debate.  Generally Scottish theatre makers’ involvement, while passionate,  is more measured- sometimes even nuanced.  The majority are in the Yes camp, but it is not all one way, and there are many who support a No vote—fearing nationalism and arguing for the route to internationalism, preferably of the Marxist variety.  However, the mental and imaginary landscapes of theatre are not yet the place in which they have explored the issue directly and instead have taken to blogging and other forms of social media.

Here is an imagined landscape, created by the playwright David Greig on a blogging site Bella Caledonia:

Leaving the Castle

There is girl. She’s seventeen. She and her three siblings have lived all their life inside an old castle. It’s a vast rambling pile with hundreds of rooms, once it was the fortress of powerful landowner but it’s long ago fallen into disrepair. The kitchens have been abandoned, the rooms are riddled with damp, the floorboards rotten. The roof has mostly fallen in and the windows are shuttered. The girl and her brothers camp now in the old ballroom where they burn the furniture to keep warm. There, they are attended to by old retainers in faded liveries who serve bad food on silver plates. Every day the retainers demand the siblings enact the old rituals of chivalry that were established when the house was first built. They bow and curtsey, they swear allegiance, they practice sword fighting, they call each other Lord and Baron and Knight. Meanwhile, in the attic of the west tower the old king, demented and sick, bangs on tin cans and shouts out to the empty fields about his power and his glory.

The girl has known nothing else. Doesn’t every child live like this? But deep down she has a slowly growing sense that something’s wrong. And then one day her unease becomes too much. She breaks the rules of the house and she opens the shutters of the ballroom window. Her eyes are dazzled briefly by the light but then they adjust and she sees: in the distance, in the valley below, a village. In the village people are going about their business, children go to school, people work, people play football, they garden…she sees and for the first time the girl realises. There is another way things can be.

So Bella, when you ask me how I’ll feel on the morning of independence my answer is this. Imagine that girl walking boldly down the long rotten corridor of the castle, imagine her stopping at the great wooden door, imagine her pushing at it and finding it open, imagine her stepping out into the fresh damp air of a spring day? That. That’s how I’ll feel.’

In summary, theatre makers in Scotland are part of the debate: issues of national identity are already there in the work, and more direct dealing with the referendum issue is yet to come.

However, I say to David and other theatre makers, the day after the referendum, regardless of the result, we will still be facing the same economic and environmental problems and issues of inequality.  And we will be a place which if not exactly torn itself apart, has inflicted on itself wounds which will be hard to heal.

So David, the real challenge for Scottish theatre makers, is imagining a Scotland in 2015 and beyond.


1. Brief for the paper: The panel is asked to reflect on how the practices and insights of contemporary theatre and performance might help to inform, broaden or indeed reconfigure the cultural and political discourses around possible independence in Scotland and accompanying notions of national identity. How might the mental and imaginary landscapes of theatre and performance-making offer productive ways of (re) thinking our views about self-determination, democracy and cultural production in a local, national and global context in the early 21st century.

2. Keynote Speech, Council of Regional Arts Associations Conference, 16 July 1990.

3. Federation of Scottish Theatre, Proposal for a National Theatre for Scotland (Edinburgh: FST, 2000), p. 3.



Categories: Arts & Culture

10 replies

  1. This publication hammers hame to me just what a thespian geek I am- got so excited scanning it there! But saving it till after our opening of The Collection at The Beacon, Greenock tonight and that new venue also says a shed load about theatre in Scotland today…

    • Oh shut up Tam, you’re just embarrassing yourself in public again with facile egotistical comments off the top of your baldy heid. You can maybe get away with that on twitter but let’s get real here.

      Someone said fairly recently, forgive me for not remembering who and possibly misquoting, that the greatest thing about modern Scottish literature is that it has shown there’s a lot more to Scotland than the cliche of duality, or as it seems in these hi-tech times, binary…

      Of course like all cliches, there is a truth embedded and there’s no doubt great works like Confessions and Jekyll & Hyde have sprung from that inspiration. I’d say it’s more than applicable to the independence debate now. A cliche that some folk are already fed up with and wish we could move on from. For me, the politicians and mainstream media debates have been utterly sterile and meek but what can you expect? Online and in the cultural field there’s been a lot more worthwhile.

      But it’s not just a binary question of Yes or No but also Yes and No, Neither, Mibbe Aye Mibbe Naw and perhaps most prevalent Who Gives A Fuck. As has been shown here, there are many in the arts who are very clearly for Yes. There are supposedly many for No but very little evidence so far in public debate. James Macmillan’s ludicrous ravings can only help the Yes campaign and Eddie McGuire of the Musicians Union failed in his promise to bring a No cultural perspective to the Edinburgh Festival.

      For myself, I’ve taken a position that has found one ally in poet Tom Leonard (some of his thoughts on the referendum can be found in his online journal http://www.tomleonard.co.uk/journal.html ). We agreed that a pox-on-both-your-Houses boycott of the referendum was the only possible principled position. I’ve been grappling with this for the past year or so but have found, like David Greig and I think many others, that the arguments for Yes have been winning me over. And I have to say that I have not heard one single argument from the No camp has appealed at all. I’ve still to talk this through with Tom and empathise that it may be back to a lonely furrow for him.

      But what I will try to engage Tom with and others if I can find the right live public forum are the writings of Lewis Grassic Gibbon/James Leslie Mitchell ( that auld duality again) on independence and nationalism which I have just come across in Scottish Scene, co-published with Hugh MacDiarmid/Christopher Grieve ( what was it with these binary betitles back then? ) in 1934. In his essay there, Glasgow Gibbon describes himself as a “cosmopolitan opportunist” temporarily nationalist, seeing a chance to win a freedom in Scotland long before England, whilst yearning and struggling for a time when humanity breaks the curse of the nation and particularly the small nation and moves towards “cosmopolitan freedom”.

      But Gibbon is categorical there with this almighty statement- “There is nothing in culture or art that is worth the life and elementary happiness of one of those thousands who rot in the Glasgow slums”. Coming across this at the time it is announced that Glasgow has the highest level in the UK of households without any employed occupants has really struck a chord. Yes, as said by Christine and Joyce Mcmillan, Scotland will face the same economic problems whatever the outcome of the referendum but where are there any hopes for change then? All the UK parties are for austerity measures and the dismantling of the Welfare State. The working class as a political force is non-existent so the only hope lies in defending gains in Scotland and demanding the Scottish Government does not take to the austerity road. By the way things are going, this is at least possible. There are no positive alternatives painted by the Unionist camp and Christine has only been able to resort to implicit fear-mongering here and, as BC has pointed out, silly talk about “basking” in the glory of Britain.

      As I’ve said elsewhere, the achilles heel of the cultural Yes campaign is the debate around Alasdair Gray’s “Settlers And Colonists” which Christine is quite right to raise again and BC once more fall into the trap of defending. Most in the cultural Yes camp I’ve come across have no truck with Gray’s argument but the likes of Bella and Alan Bissett are intent on defending it and here we see a very thin justification. The division into settlers and colonists is utterly simplistic – as soon as you take any living (or dead ) example, it falls apart. And come on, those terms are loaded with racist tones. The continual harking to Andrew Dixon’s supposed quip about knowing nothing about Scottish culture is really not enough to justify the argument. He was dealt with, don’t you know. There’s nothing to be gained by causing folk who come to work in and around the arts in Scotland to fear that they have less right to be here and a huge amount to be lost. I don’t believe there is a single vote for independence to be won by Gray’s argument and many many to be lost, or at the very least it leaves people feeling very queasy about what may come. Quit the blame culture and recognise it’s up to us all to embrace and celebrate whatever we find relevant and worthy of re-examination from Scotland’s cultural past. As Stewart Laing has done with Hogg’s Confessions.

      A prime inspiration for Laing and Carter’s Paul Bright was Ken Davidson and the work of his company Process Ten28. In the main, this consisted of a series of performances at Tramway, The Arches and internationally based on sections of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. I took part in all of these performances and they are amongst the most important work I have ever done. I won’t go into it here and now and it’s difficult to point to where material may be found online. There are several reviews by critics still available and I found this video of the last piece we did in 2001- https://vimeo.com/14533547
      but for one who seemed to so meticulously document the work we did, Davidson seems to have let Process ten28 slip from public view into the mental and imaginary landscape of theatre and performance.

      It needs to be highlighted that James Joyce had to flee the newly, supposedly independent Ireland to make his work and this ties in with another quote from Gibbon’s Glasgow-

      “But I’d rather, any day, be an expatriate writing novels in Persian about the Cape of Good Hope than a member of a homogeneous literary cultus…prosing eternally on one plane – the insanitary reactions to death of a Kelvingrove bourgeois, or the owlish gawk…of Ben Lomond through its clouds, like a walrus through a fluff of whiskers.”

      There is undoubtedly a fair blossoming of culture in Scotland right now. The reasons for that are manifold. Christine and Joyce can pick out their reasons for it but it’s the positivity of the cultural Yes that has got my juices flowing enough to spend my first morning off work writing this. I’m indebted to George Gunn for his previous encouragement to get writing. I didn’t do it there with him but I need to do it here because to me, for all I might disagree, Bella Caledonia is making an extraordinary contribution to debate in Scotland right now and that is no small reason because it is imagining Scotland in 2015 and beyond in a way that the Nay-sayers just dare not do.

  2. Thanks to Christine for letting us re-publish this. There’s so may questions that spring from it I’m not sure where to begin.

    Here some areas that really trouble and confuse me about your analysis:

    1) You say: “Scotland also has a complicated relationship with the rest of the world – striving to be a kind of celtic Borgen with a modest yet influential role while all the time basking in the glory of being part of one of the world’s most powerful nations”.

    Basking? Do we bask? I don’t see much basking, even by the Unionists Biggest Basking Sharks. Are we ‘part of one of the world’s most powerful nations?’ Which nation would that be? Britain? Is Britain a nation? I thought it was a union? In what way powerful?

    2) You say: “As Scotland again faces up to an uncertain constitutional future which turns a spotlight on its inherent contradictions”.

    This doesn’t make sense. All nations, peoples and cultures have complex histories. Why would Scotland’s history create a set of ‘inherent contradictions’?

    3) You say: ‘It’s very hard to think about any dramatist who has not had a point of view on the politics of the country in which they work.’ riposted Alasdair Gray, novelist and author of Lanark. Gray has form in this debate. Earlier this year he published an article which talked about ‘settlers’ and ‘colonists’ in Scotland – the former being folk who choose to move and settle here (implication good) and the latter those who choose to further their career by coming here for a few years and then moving away again (implication bad). The problem with Gray’s analysis is that the language is inflammatory and verging on racist.”

    It really isn’t. It’s a banal observation that any country is made up of people who come and stay more permanently and those who don’t. If you are going to make accusations of racism you really need to be more specific and have back-up. The idea that people appointed to senior positions of cultural management and influence SHOULDN’T or NEEDN’T have an in depth knowledge of the place they are working is absurd.

    4) You say: “I say to David and other theatre makers, the day after the referendum, regardless of the result, we will still be facing the same economic and environmental problems and issues of inequality. And we will be a place which if not exactly torn itself apart, has inflicted on itself wounds which will be hard to heal.”

    It’s very true to say that on Day 1 we will have the same economic and environmental problems and issues of inequality – that’s blatantly obvious – but what’s extraordinary is the presumption in this sentence that the process of exploring a democratic referendum delivered by a government elected with a historic landslide is somehow ‘inflicting wounds’. The implication seems to be that self-exploration or asking questions about your identity and position in the world is a form of self-harm. That from someone in theatre is really a bizarre observation to make. The consequence of this statement is that we shouldn’t question things, lest we lose our glory of being part of the powerful?

    It’s a sort of fantasy world.

  3. sometimes i think the great contradiction or antisyzygy in the scots “character” is an intellectual conceit. akin to the predestined puritans’ secret delight in being sinful knowing it is part of the divine plan and they can do nothing about it:so just fornicate and enjoy those luscious throbs of guilt. then we have james macmillan. self-lacerating catholic enjoying finding fascists, mussolini’s cheerleaders no less, behind the political arras. scots it seems are militantly extremist when acting in their own interest. have a propensity for the phalanx when not checked by the master. yet he claims to cherish scotland and her culture. has made trenchant comments on sectarianism and its constraining of our cultural awareness. yet it would appear he wishes to keep the great door shut lest his world catches the new light and new air and turns to dust like miss havisham’s wedding table. are those opposers of independence happy to be locked in their provincial cage? content with the great contradiction? if so we need not just a political revolution but a cultural one as well. that door would make excellent fuel for the bonfire of the national psychoses.

  4. I do think James MacMillan is out of touch with the real world of working class life of the everyday Glaswegian. George Galloway is a more extreme case but in some senses echoes similarities to MacMillan. As you get older you do run the danger of becoming “out of touch” with the real pulse of things but this can be exacerbated by a certain accruing of wealth, privilege and influence in society- such people become conventionally minded, conservative even, and some might say ‘bourgeois'; all with a concomitant ossification of opinion into prejudice.
    I, myself, come from a working class Celtic supporting catholic background, and have found many in that particular demographic to be aggressively opposed to the idea of Scottish independence: many of the older generation like Galloway and MacMillan believe a Protestant Scotland will give a green light to a triumphalist Orangeism to persecute Irish/Scots Catholics. And yes to the more lucid minded this seems absurd and maybe even paranoid. It is. But it has traction among many, specifically the older generation, like Galloway and MacMillan. Many Catholics, particularly middle class professionals, are often very conservative and will vote for the union and on the other side many of the working classes vote Labour and will vote in accordance with their Unionist party’s diktats.
    It’s a strange phenomenon that the more fanatical on either side of the “great divide”, are united against Independence and that traditional republicans are often in agreement with Protestant Ascendancy Unionists in preserving the UK.

    • I agree with the previous poster – whoever thought it would be a good idea to attack James Macmillan mob handed on Twitter is guilty of an unbelieveably poor strategic error..

      He comes on, calls national collective a ‘mob’ and then they fall for it, reacting instead of responding …..they could have said “aye ok, fair enough james, sad you’re not on board with us …we’d be happy for you to join if you ever changed your mind” …but they didn’t.

      James Macmillan is a key contributor to a vital aspect of Scottish identity that has been around since the days of Mungo, Columba, Kentigern and Cuthbert – he should be given the respect due to a true cultural heavyweight – but here we are, trying to crack him on twitter- that small and sickly eyes may glare and gloat from the comfort of a dark bedroom in larkhall.

      • It’s not a matter of trying to crack Macmillan on twitter. It’s pointing out the ridiculousness of his tweets calling National Collective not just a mob but Mussolini’s henchmen and suchlike fascist accusations. The only possible way his blatherings there can be construed as the work of a true cultural heavyweight is by viewing them as bullying tactics. And I believe I have every right to challenge him as a leading member of the Catholic Church in Scotland to condemn the appalling hypocritical behaviour of its clergy. To equate any of this with bigoted Orangeism is nonsense.

      • Could you please tell me what “vital aspect of Scottish identity” you mean? I’m curious. I know he’s a composer, but I’m not sure how that’s in any way unique to Scotland or what it has to do with the various saints you list. (Just a wee note – Kentigern and Mungo are the same saint, not two separate ones.)

  5. The Caledonia antiszygy – and in fact, any of the facile identity labels which are casually thrown about – sows confusion and is a red herring, which can be put down to the rhetorical excesses of Hugh MacDiarmid, a man who cultivated such excesses.

    You’d think sometimes that the only people in the world interested in dualities were the Scots. To go no further, “Don Quixote” was written in 1605 and 1615 (in two parts), and fascinated Freud because of the duality embodied by its two main characters: Sancho Panza and Don Quixote. Dostoevsky wrote “The Double” and there must be dozens of other examples….we have no monopoly on duality and it confuses us and leads us into simplistic binary thinking.

    As for the cultural question and the issue of arts administrators, it’s important to see the question in terms of a cultural paradigm, not in terms of the personalities involved. I despair that so many people appear to have been spun on this by the media.

    The implication of these appointments is that Scottish Culture and Anglo- British culture are one and the same thing, and they are not!!! If people appointed to Scotland’s arts jobs are not expert in Scottish culture they will inevitably apply a different set of cultural values to the job – we all carry a set of cultural values about with us whether we like it or not.

    Gray used the word colonisers because the British Empire was the modern colonizing venture par excelence, and the colonizing culture was Anglo-British!!! They don’t speak Gaelic in India these days, nor Lallans in New Zealand to state the bloody obvious, nor Welsh in South Africa!!! The fact that the Scots were instrumental in that process does not mean it didn’t take place. And the colonizing processes (including self colonizing) has taken place and largely succeeded here in Scotland, that is obvious by the reaction to the Gray affair.

    How bad is it for Scottish culture? There are plenty of people who will sit there and tell you that there is no such thing as Scots, it’s just an accent, or worse still, bad English, and that Gaelic is a dead language of a backward culture which should be “allowed to die”. That’s how bad the situation is for Scottish culture, which has obviously never been anywhere near “colonized”…. colonized, us? Never!

    You try to explain that Castilian Spanish and Portuguese have as much as 80% of the same vocabulary in common, differing in the pronunciation, and that the way you say “casa” in Portuguese and Spanish is as different as you say “house” on either side of the Tweed…. that an official language is “a dialect with an army and a navy” as somebody once put it, but they don’t believe you….

    Or you point out that Gaelic boasts a vernacular literature older than any other in Europe, a language the envy of linguists the world over, but somehow it makes no impression, because it’s always been treated with sheer contempt – and still is today by an SNP govt who refuse to put it on the ballot paper in Sep 2014.

    Somehow you’re an “outlier” in this debate if you refuse to acquiesce in the slow lingering death of indigenous Scottish culture, a death by ignorance, a death by indifference mainly, an act of cultural vandalism which started at the time of the Reformation and has been going strong since then, notwithstanding the heroic activities of some of Scotland’s artists over the years, like Gray himself today.

    There are plenty of narrow minded, provincial and parochial Scottish cultural figures taking part in the independence debate, but none of them are translating Dante’s Divina Commedia as far as I know….

    Read Purser’s “Scotland’s Music”, read Kenneth White’s “On Scottish Ground”, read MacMillan’s “Scottish Art”, read “Scotland Books” by Robert Crawford, read “Arts of Resistance” by Alan Riach and Alexander Moffat…… but, semantics notwithstanding, please don’t portray the Colonizers and Settlers essay as somehow an eccentric point of view.

    What is eccentric is to appoint people to the top jobs in Scottish culture who know NOTHING about Scottish culture….

  6. Of the possible ‘splits’ between Scots, the writer does not mention East and West

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